Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Just before bedtime I turned off all the lights and checked the front door. As I looked out onto the porch through the window I saw a new animal friend helping himself to a snack at the cat bowl. We have received all kinds of visitors – raccoons, dogs, cats, birds – but this was our first skunk. He was quite polite and mannerly, not nearly as raucous as some of the other guests.

Skunk FinalI of course did not draw his attention, tap on the window, or open the door. Best let him enjoy himself without distraction. But I wasn’t the only one watching.

Out on the sidewalk, no more than eight feet away, was Mary the cat. She was the picture of stillness, not flinching, not moving a muscle. She watched with attentive calm. She neither fled nor bristled. She waited. And when the skunk pushed away from the table he turned to see Mary. I wondered what would happen next.

Nothing exciting, that’s what. Instead of walking on toward Mary he turned right, dropped off the porch and headed along the house toward the woods. They had both respected the requisite distance necessary for both to feel safe and went their own ways without incident.

Every creature has ways to defend itself or elude threat. They all sense when danger is coming their way and prepare to fight or take flight. Some just freeze, immobilized. Most of the time, unless an animal is hunting as a predator, it responds aggressively when it feels threatened. If an animal has been hurt and anticipates more it becomes hyper-vigilant about any source of threat around it, lashing out quickly and without much warning. The most abused animals often become the most aggressive.

There are several alternatives to handling hyper-charged standoffs in which one or more of the parties feel threatened. One way is to use more force to subdue the real or perceived threat. Another is to flee and passively find other ways to survive. But another pathway is that of mutual respect, adequate resource and insuring a margin of safety.

It is possible that some day the two legged, big brained creatures will evolve to the level of the skunk and cat. They will insure that all are fed, that none feel afraid, and a margin of respect is maintained for all. This will not be easy for this species. In addition to being advanced in so many remarkable ways, including the ways they can care for one another, they remain a planetary menace. They still don’t know how to handle standoffs on the front porch. They don’t know how to avoid them in the first place. And it may be the end of them.

Those who have ears listen to the parable of the skunk and the cat.


If you want a book that brings the fruit of vast experience in the geopolitical dimensions of the Middle East, this is it: And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 2016). The author is Richard Engel, long time chief foreign correspondent for NBC news. Engel brings a perspective built on decades covering the Middle East. He also brings a historic view of the region that includes centuries of development. This book is a salve against reductionists who offer simple explanations not anchored in actual history.

The twenty pages of introduction boil down long complex eras into understandable narratives that shed light on why Iraq has been divided into its several religious/ethnic sections since the Europeans carved up the Middle East following WW I. He elegantly clarifies just why Al Qaeda-become-ISIS did not move into Iraq in league with Saddam; quite to the contrary, secular dictator Saddam repulsed and repressed all religious  fundamentalist movements. No, they came and come to repel the American invasion and occupation, simple as that.

If there is one book with which you can educate yourself about this region through the past thousand years, this might be it. That is certainly the case for me. Only a voice of realism and experience can write:

“For twenty years I saw the big men at their prime, and chronicled their downfall and the mayhem that followed…I suspect a new generation of big men will return. No people can tolerate chaos forever. Dictators will offer a way out and many of the exhausted and brutalized people of the Middle East will accept them, and I suspect Washington will as well.”


We have been shackled to the past in our policies relating to the Middle East. In addition to the presence of an arms industry that wants to sell lots and lots of military hardware to certain partners in the region, there are other challenges. We must redefine our relationship to both Israel and its neighbors.

Security must be present for all, but so must a reasonable quality of life. This means balancing the needs of both Israel and Palestinians. And once we show a balanced policy in the region we will remove yet another persistent cause of rage in the Arab street. The radicalized mosques and madrases will have one less reason to wage jihad; in their mind, a righteous struggle against those who oppress their brothers.

Good first step: disestablish all the entitled lobbyists who insist on only one way to go about this. We have many friends in the Middle East. It is in our interest and the interest of the entire region to find a a just peace for all the players. We cannot line up exclusively  with one side, especially if that side is seen not only to seek security, but exploit the dis-empowered.

Christian Arabs are fleeing the region for good reason; in the mind of their attackers they are associated with the West. It is a mistaken assumption. But until we change our posture that won’t change. In fact, until we change our posture most things won’t change.